July 17, 2023

Comparing painting estimates

Be sure to provide guidance when you request a painting estimate. Give contractors detailed job descriptions so that you can compare quotes side-by-side. A professional painter should comply with your request for details, but each painter’s approach may differ. For example, one bidder may include an extra finish coat, while another may omit the prime coat to outbid the competition.

Comparing painting estimates

Scope of work

Armed with a number of painting estimates, homeowners often realize that the scope of work, job specifications, and resulting prices are dissimilar, making estimates often impossible to compare. This leaves the homeowner with the need to redo the bidding process from scratch or, even worse, with the need to revisit the process—especially when it comes to light that something the homeowner wanted to be painted was not included in the winning proposal.

Homeowners can easily avoid confusion by providing all bidders with a project description. This description does not have to be very complicated, providing it is the same for every bidder.

Here is an example of what I mean:

  • Paint the exterior of 123 Main Street
  • All work at the front, back, east side light well, and partial west side (above the neighbor’s roof), as shown in these photos.
  • Include the following services.
  • Clean, scrape and prepare all surfaces to be painted.
  • Use one complete coat of primer and one coat of finish paint.
  • The front will be in three colors. The back and sides will be two colors.
  • The material will be the top grade of XYZ Paint Company.

Even with a project description, you may find that some bidders will recommend something different than what was described. At this stage of the game, you should resist the temptation to stray from your project description and keep in mind your goal of getting comparable proposals. So, even if you like the recommendation for an extra finish coat, you should ask the recommending bidder to give it to you as an alternate—a separate price for only that extra coat. When the time comes to compare proposals, you will not end up trying to compare apples to oranges or some other completely different type of fruit.

How to get the best deal on a paint project

I frequently receive phone calls from people looking to get a quick quote for a painting project. They provide me with the number of rooms and square footage, and ask for a price. Some people believe they will find the best deal by calling several painters. We can’t blame them for trying. Most painting projects are big-ticket items.

In the internet age, shopping for products has become much more manageable. However, shopping for services such as painting doesn’t work quite the same way as shopping for flat-screen TVs.

The fact is that a "typical three-bedroom house" is rarely the same as another house with three bedrooms. There are many variables to consider:

  • The total number and sizes of rooms, types, and numbers of windows and doors.
  • The time required for the placement of protection for furniture and fixtures.
  • The quality and quantity of paint.
  • The amount of surface preparation needed. 

Any change in one of these variables can mean a difference of dozens or even hundreds of work hours. The best price does not necessarily mean the best deal. I am not saying that price is unimportant. It is essential, but only to the extent that it represents the actual value of the work. Getting the best deal means getting the best value. It’s easy to compare the price, but the key to getting the best deal is evaluating and comparing the project details offered for that price.

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